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Using the correct verb with a subject

When you have a subject that is doing something, you need to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject. If the subject is singular, then the verb needs to be singular. The opposite goes as well - if the subject is plural then the verb also needs to be plural.

An elephant walks quite slowly.

The subject ‘elephant’ is singular - there is only one elephant. This means that we need to use the singular form of the verb ‘walk’, which is ‘walks’. If we had more than one elephant, the sentence would change:

Elephants walk quite slowly.

Now we’ve got a plural subject ‘elephants’. This means we need the plural form of the verb ‘walk’, which is ‘walks’. Usually, the sentence sounds quite wrong if you use the wrong verb type:

Elephants walks quite slowly.

Doesn’t sound right!

Handy Hint - Tricky nouns - singular or plural?

If you see a ‘noun’ that ends in ‘s’, you would usually assume that it’s a plural noun and pick an appropriate form of the verb:

Elephants walk quite slowly.

However, this isn’t always the case. Some nouns end in ‘s’ but aren’t plural, like in this sentence:

Mathematics is often a hard subject for students.

‘Mathematics’, even though it ends with an ‘s’, is a singular subject. So it needs a singular verb form of the ‘to be’ verb - ‘is’.

The English language, however, is not content with this level of difficulty. There are also nouns that end in ‘s’ that, while they are singular, still need a plural verb to go with them.

These scissors are great for cutting wrapping paper.

‘Scissors’ is a singular noun - it refers to a single item. However, it’s also one of those singular nouns that has to take a plural verb - ‘are’. You’ll come across these confusing situations occasionally. There are no hard and fast rules, you just have to learn them as they come.